Brian McLaren is one of the most influential “author mentors” in my spiritual journey. I’ve read all but his latest book, and most of those I bought the day they came out. I love McLaren’s writing style, his message, and his thoughtful critiques. He writes with a subtle sense of humor and sarcasm, yet his message is poignant. I have actually met McLaren, and he is a friendly and down to earth person, not some arrogant celebrity evangelical. He loves Jesus, and he wants to see the kingdom of God manifest here on earth. His writings have made me comfortable with what many evangelicals would call liberal theology.
Recently McLaren has publicly endorsed Barack Obama for President. He has begun a series on his blog explaining each of his reasons for his choice, and hopes that we will vote for him as well. To my surprise and delight, what I read in his first post was thoughtful, engaging, and exposed the negative narrative that John McCain lives from and speaks from, which was his primary point in the first post.
I’m not ready to join McLaren in his support, but for any believer who isn’t an Obama supporter, what McLaren has to say is truly worth reading. I disagree with several points McLaren makes, primarily points that are inaccurate in their factuality rather than the main point or message behind it.
His first reason is what he calls the framing story. McCain lives in a “warrior narrative,” described McLaren, that emphasizes an us-them attitude toward our enemies. McLaren believes this is bogus and unsatisfactory in foreign policy. Barack Obama, on the other hand, preaches “a reconciliation narrative, a peace-building narrative, a collaboration narrative.” McLaren explains his endorsement of this framing story for two reasons:
First, I am a committed Christian, and I believe a narrative of reconciliation is in harmony with the teachings of Jesus. Conversely, a narrative of domination and defeat is not: it is the way of Caesar, or what Jesus called “the kingdoms of this world”….
Second, I believe we have crossed a threshold in my lifetime. Senator McCain, because of his age and his viewpoint, lives on the older side of that threshold. This doesn’t mean he is evil, but it means he is responding in ways that are no longer appropriate to a world that no longer exists, and in that way, his viewpoint is no longer helpful.
On those two points, I’d like to respond. First, I am a committed Christian also, and I do believe the narrative of reconciliation is in harmony with the teachings of Jesus. But so is calling a spade a spade (or evil what it is: evil), and so is defending and protecting those whom we have been entrusted to protect. For me personally, that means my family. For the government, that means the citizens of that nation and all within its borders.
On his second point, I think McLaren ignores the reality that we still live in a world full of appropriate dichotomies. While I agree that not all conflict can be reduced to two polar opposite sides, and by no means is any conflict simplistic, McLaren’s dissatisfaction with the “warrior narrative” is simply another perspective of a postmodern Western Christian who has reacted often against his modernistic and fundamentalist upbringing (and for very good reasons). For those who wish to have no part in reconciling with the West, let alone Christians, but rather seek bloody retribution, we cannot offer reconciliation. We can only offer to defeat them. If it were only so easy to extend a reconciliatory hand.
On a personal level, we can turn the other cheek or let a man take more than just the coat off our backs. But a single human being (and his administration) do not have the authority to turn my cheek or let my enemy take the clothes of my back. That is my choice to make. A President is under oath to protect me, not act as a priest or mediator of reconciliation to my enemies. Granted, it might be part of the method of protection, but at best, it merely sets an example. At worst it may cost the lives of others, especially when the enemy doesn’t care about our reconciliation.